assorted pills (Alexander Khoruzhenko/

NLM Pillbox put out to pasture

The National Library of Medicine (NLM) retired its Pillbox website earlier this year after about a decade of providing a quick way for the public, medical workers and law enforcement to identify a pill.

By following prompts to submit descriptions of pills, Pillbox helped users narrow down which one they were trying to identify, according to a July 2010 GCN article. NLM released Pillbox in beta in 2009 as “a resource intended to enhance patient safety via an identification and reference system for solid dosage medications.” It combined pharmaceutical data from the Food and Drug Administration and NLM with high-resolution images.

A Health and Human Services website about the service states that an HHS Ignite Accelerator team later automated the processes to clean up and publish a publicly available library of 7,000-plus pill images.

Still, usage of the site was low compared to other NLM drug information products, an NLM spokesperson wrote in an emailed response to GCN’s questions about the closure of Pillbox. For example, the library’s DailyMed, a database of labeling submitted to the Food and Drug Administration, had 40 times more visits than Pillbox in 2020.

Although Pillbox initially provided pill image data from a variety of data sources, drug manufacturers quit providing content in recent years, according to the email, and much of the information Pillbox provided duplicated that of DailyMed.

“The decision to retire Pillbox was made to reduce the redundancy of drug information across NLM platforms and to focus NLM efforts on programs,” the spokesperson said. “Over the past several years, NLM has been conducting reviews of its products to decrease the numbers of unique platforms, and consolidate information on as few platforms as possible to increase efficiency, reduce duplication and redundancy of information, and simplify access and findability for our users.”

The effort is part of the library’s strategic plan, which spans 2017 to 2027.

In announcing Pillbox’s retirement, NLM directed users to MedlinePlus Drugs, Herbs and Supplements, its flagship consumer health website, adding that neither it nor DailyMed provide pill identification.

The retirement includes the Pillbox drug identification and search websites and production of the Pillbox dataset, image library and application programming interfaces. Pillbox data can be found at Data Discovery, and a collection of pill images is available at NLM Data Distribution Program, but neither should be used for pill identification.

NLM has no plans to replace Pillbox at this time, the spokesperson said.

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.


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